H5N8 avian influenza virus acquires enhanced pathogenicity after a single passage in chicken

The H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIVs) isolated in Japan during the 2014-2015 winter differed in their pathogenicity in chickens. In the present study, we examined the possibility that a comparatively less pathogenic strain was first brought into the country by migratory birds, and then acquired enhanced pathogenicity by infecting chicken flocks. We showed that the A/tundra swan/Tottori/C6nk/2014 (H5N8) (Tottori P0) strain required 10 days to kill all chickens via the intranasal route. However, Tottori P1-B, a strain recovered from the brain of a chicken infected with parental Tottori P0, showed enhanced pathogenicity; Tottori P1-B replicated significantly in the lung and liver, and killed all infected birds within 6 days, which was comparable to a chicken farm isolate obtained in the same season, A/environment/Miyazaki/11/2014 (H5N8). Tottori P1-B showed more marked proliferation in MDCK and chicken fibroblast cells, especially during the early phase of infection. Sequence analysis revealed a single mutation, M374?V, in nucleoprotein (NP) of the passaged virus, and this substitution was conserved after a further inoculation study. Position 374 in NP is located in the functional domain interacting with polymerase protein, PB2, indicating that viral polymerase activity was involved in the rapid growth of Tottori P1-B in vitro and in vivo. These results suggest that HPAIV, which originally had comparatively low pathogenicity to chickens, can increase its pathogenicity through the infection from migratory birds to domestic chickens.